SAN DIEGO (AP) — Two Navy SEALs testified Friday that their platoon leader gunned down a young girl and an old man in Iraq in 2017 from his sniper’s perch, though neither witnessed him pulling the trigger.
The SEALs said shots came from the tower where Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was posted and they watched through their scopes as the civilians fell to the ground.
Dalton Tolbert said he and another sniper were in a neighboring tower in Mosul on June 18, 2017, and had fired warnings shots to scatter civilians by the Tigris River because the Islamic State was operating in the area.
An old man in a white tunic began running and then Tolbert heard a third shot come from the neighboring tower where Gallagher was positioned and saw the man fall.
Over the radio, he heard Gallagher say: “You guys missed him, but I got him.”
Gallagher, 40, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder for allegedly shooting civilians. He also faces a murder charge in the alleged stabbing of a wounded captive Islamic State fighter.
The defense said the testimony was unreliable because no witness reported seeing Gallagher pull the trigger. Attorney Tim Parlatore accused the SEALs of organizing a smear campaign through a group text that pressured fellow SEALs to coordinate their stories and get Gallagher ousted permanently.
Tolbert was so upset that when he returned from deployment, he texted members of SEAL Team 7 to say he wanted people to speak up about Gallagher’s behavior.
“I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS. I see an issue with that,” Tolbert texted others.
Another witness, Joshua Vriens, said on another day that he saw Gallagher shoot at a group of adolescent girls in floral hijabs, hitting one in the stomach and sending two scattering.
Vriens said he watched through his scope as a fourth girl dragged the wounded girl over a berm and under a bridge to escape.
During cross-examination, Vriens acknowledged he reported to a superior that day that the Islamic State was shooting civilians.
Tolbert and Vriens said there were no signs that the old man or the young girl were threats. Most of the Islamic State fighters were younger and had longer hair.
The defense, however, countered that the Islamic State used civilians, including women, to provide supplies.
The shootings happened several weeks after other SEALs said they witnessed Gallagher, a medic, stabbing to death a wounded and captive Islamic State fighter in his care.
On Thursday, another SEAL stunned the court when he admitted on the witness stand that he — not Gallagher — killed the prisoner.
Corey Scott said Gallagher stabbed the captive, but that he would have survived those wounds.
Scott said he suffocated the adolescent by plugging his breathing tube as an act of mercy because he didn’t want him to be tortured to death by Iraqi forces.
Vriens said Friday that he never saw the killing, but said later that day a fellow SEAL who was viewing photos of the dead militant on a laptop shared by the platoon asked Gallagher, “Is this the guy?”
Vriens said Gallagher replied: “Yes, I stabbed him in the side, then grabbed him by the hair and looked him in the eyes and I stabbed him in the neck.”
Melley reported from Los Angeles.